SEATTLE, Washington - Mitt Romney picked up another victory in the race for the Republican presidential nomination late Saturday as he carried his party’s caucuses in the northwestern state of Washington.

Romney declared victory in the contest after returns showed him far ahead of former senator Rick Santorum and Texas congressman Ron Paul, who struggled for second place.

With all the ballots counted, Romney finished ahead with 37.6 percent of the vote, Paul was a distant second with 24.8 percent followed closely by Santorum with 23.8 percent.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich ended the race fourth with just 10.3 percent of the vote.

“I’m heartened to have won the Washington caucuses, and I thank the voters for their support,” Romney said after most of the precincts had reported. “Every day that passes with Barack Obama in the White House is a day in which America’s recovery from the economic crisis is delayed.”

Party officials said there was record turnout for the caucuses, the latest state-by-state race to pick the Republican party’s candidate to challenge Democratic President Obama in November.

While attendees differed in their candidate of choice, they generally agreed on one thing.

“I think the imperative is to replace Obama,” said a 68-year-old man, who attended the caucus at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School but declined to be identified. “Basically, he is leading us down the path to Socialism and the loss of freedom, the loss of individual liberty.”

The candidates now head into Super Tuesday, next week’s crucial string of primaries and caucuses in 10 states. Romney and Santorum are seeking to harness momentum going into next week’s balloting in Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota. Romney held a brief rally on Saturday morning before leaving Washington state, which borders Canada.

Voters flocked to Saturday’s caucuses, enthused that Washington state, which is usually little more than an afterthought in an election year, was attracting attention due to the tight race.

Kirby Wilbur, the state’s Republican party chairman, said 21,000 voters had cast ballots and some counties had yet to return their results. “This shows a high level of enthusiasm and excitement and shows how important the straw poll has been,” he added.

His view was shared by first-time caucus-goer Erin Haick, who voted in a Seattle high school. “Usually it doesn’t matter. It’s just really exciting that Washington’s caucus is important,” Haick said. The 30-year-old voted for Santorum as the former senator from Pennsylvania has been a “consistent conservative and I don’t feel the same way about the other candidates.”

A win in Washington is largely symbolic. Although the state has 43 delegates to the Republican Party convention, which will crown the nominee, these will be chosen at a later date and Saturday’s results are non-binding.

To win the nomination a candidate has to secure a total of 1,144 delegates, so the results from Tuesday’s contests in 10 states with about 400 delegates up for grabs could be pivotal.

In the volatile race, Romney had won six states, Santorum four and Gingrich one before the Washington state contest. Romney has secured more than 150 delegates, with Santorum close to 70, according to a count by the website Real Clear Politics.